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Parker's departure from Steelers hurts depth

The opportunity to start elsewhere has led to the departure of the Steelers' third all-time leading rusher and leaves the team with depth issues at running back.

Willie Parker, who had been the Steelers' feature back before losing his starting job last season, signed a one-year contract with the Washington Redskins Friday.

A two-time Pro Bowler with the Steelers, Parker rushed for 5,378 yards from 2004 to 2009, but the emergence of Rashard Mendenhall last season made him expendable.

Parker joins a crowded backfield in Washington, which also has former Pro Bowlers in Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson. But Parker's agent said he will be given the chance to start for the Redskins.

"You know Willie's work ethic, so don't be surprised if he ends up as a starter," Doug Hendrickson, Parker's agent, said via email yesterday.

The loss of Parker leaves the Steelers with only two experienced running back on their roster, Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore. It could open up an opportunity for young running backs such as Frank Summers and Isaac Redman.

Coach Mike Tomlin said last week that the Steelers are comfortable with Moore, who has been the team's third-down back, filling the No. 2 role behind Mendenhall. The Steelers are expected to add at least one more running back to their roster, either through free agency or the NFL Draft, which will be held later this month.

"If we're able to acquire a running back that fits us, we're going to be open to that," Tomlin said at the recent NFL owners' meetings.

Parker leaves Pittsburgh as one of the Steelers' most unlikely success stories. He signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2004 after playing sparingly at the University of North Carolina and made the team as a rookie.

Parker burst onto the scene in 2005 with 1,202 rushing yards. His 75-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XL is still the longest in the game's history.

In 2007, Parker was leading the NFL in rushing (1,316) before breaking his right leg in the next to last game of the season.

He battled injuries the past two seasons, and Mendenhall supplanted Parker as the starter in 2009, rushing for 1,108 yards.

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